2017-04-13 / Opinion

We Can Learn from 19th Century Education Reform

GUEST VIEW
By Louis P. DiPalma

The year was 1892. Benjamin Harrison was President of the United States and Herbert Ladd was the Governor of Rhode Island.

In 1892, the “Committee of Ten,” led by Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard University, was established by the National Education Association to evaluate the existing form and structure of education and provide recommendations for the future.

The following year, in 1893, the committee issued its report recommending that every public school student receive “eight years of elementary education and four years of secondary education.“

Until that point, public education across the country started at grade 1 and ended at grade 9 – yes, grade 9. This was the education we provided to the vast majority of American students. Only the elite – families of means who were able to afford secondary education for their children – received more. Secondary education was the exception, not the norm.

Prior to 1893, nine grades of education was deemed necessary and sufficient. The committee found that nine grades of education was still necessary, but it was no longer sufficient to address the labor demands and emerging economies of that era.

Fast forward to 2017. As we’ve known for some time, the economies of today and tomorrow require a workforce with a postsecondary education. Since the economic recovery, which began in January 2010, approximately 11.6 million jobs have been created, and of those, more than 11.5 million required a post-secondary education/degree. Such staggering figures force us to conclude that a high school education remains necessary, but it is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of today’s labor market.

For many years, we’ve told our students that they need to continue their education beyond high school, but we haven’t taken action to provide every student with the opportunity to do it. So, as with secondary education at the end of the 19th century, post-secondary education is now only available to the children of families of means.

It is my belief that we need to take the next bold step and make free K-12 education available to all Rhode Islanders. The Rhode Island’s Promise initiative put forward by Gov. Raimondo seeks to address some of the challenges that prevent Rhode Island students from securing the needed education level demanded by Rhode Island employers. These challenges include high student loan debt and the need to work multiple jobs while going to school. The Rhode Island’s Promise Scholarship is designed to help our students limit and overcome these sometimes, insurmountable hurdles.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, I look forward to hearing and actively listening to the expected testimony, and having a robust dialogue on the proposal. I am eager to begin working with my colleagues to ensure that the resulting proposal enables Rhode Island students to achieve the necessary and sufficient education they deserve.

As was done subsequent to the Committee of Ten, which was taking bold action to shape our country’s future, we must take action to ensure that all our students have access to an education that is both necessary and sufficient. This informed and bold proposal calls us to make the right investment so that our students are successful and Rhode Island is successful. The time to act is now!

Louis P. DiPalma is the Democratic state senator representing District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport and Tiverton. He serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the Committee on Finance and as a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Return to top